The grandmother of 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, who has been missing since Monday and remains the subject of an Amber Alert in New Jersey, tearfully pleaded with anyone who has information on her granddaughter to come forward.
“Please, if you have any information help us find my granddaughter. Do not be afraid of the police,” the grandmother said at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Spanish. “We have not been able to eat or sleep. You can’t imagine what we are going through. We are very sad.”
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae did not name the grandma because she asked not to be identified.
Authorities said they are continuing to exhaust all resources as they search for Dulce and an unidentified individual who police say was seen leading the little girl into a red van.
The FBI, state police, missing persons unit, helicopters, and the downtown ship dive crew have been part of the search efforts.
“Time is of the essence. We need to find young Dulce. As time passes, it gets harder to find her,” Webb-McRae said at Thursday’s press conference.
Webb-McRae said they believe the man being sought may have information that will “greatly assist us.”
She said the man — described as a light-skinned, possibly Hispanic man wearing a black shirt and red pants with orange sneakers — may not even realize he has information that could help authorities find Dulce, but she did not elaborate.
A $20,000 reward has been issued for any information that leads to finding her or anyone involved in her disappearance. Webb-McRae made a point to note that investigators will not ask anyone about their immigration status if they come forward with information on Dulce.
She was last seen Monday afternoon in the area of City Park in Bridgeton, New Jersey.
Dulce’s mother reported to authorities that she saw her daughter playing on the swings with her 3-year-old brother, about 30 yards away, while she remained in her car with an 8-year-old relative. The mother said the toddler returned to her car without his sister and she was unable to find her, according to a press release from the Bridgetown Police Department.
Dulce’s mother, Noema Alavez Perez, said her daughter “would never run off” or “walk by herself.”
“All of us are missing her a lot,” Perez told reporters Wednesday.
The New Jersey State Police issued the Amber Alert for Dulce early Wednesday after investigators interviewed people who were in the area at the time she vanished. Based on those interviews, detectives believe Dulce was taken by an unidentified man described as being around 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 and having a thin build, acne and no facial hair.
He was last seen leading Dulce from the Bridgeton City Park playground into a red van with tinted windows and a sliding door on Monday at approximately 4:20 p.m. local time, according to the New Jersey State Police.
“It could be anybody. We don’t know if it’s a family member, strangers,” Dulce’s aunt, Nayiber Alavez, told reporters Wednesday. “But the only thing we’re asking is for her to come back home safely.”
Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari said investigators haven’t ruled anything out and that the individual responsible for Dulce’s disappearance could be a stranger or a known person. Detectives have been in constant contact with the little girl’s mother and will conduct follow-up interviews with more family members.
“We don’t have any solid suspects, we are investigating all the possibilities,” Gaimari told reporters Wednesday. “We have video surveillance that we’ve gathered from all of this area as much as we could obtain.”
Surveillance footage shows Dulce with her mother and little brother buying ice cream at a nearby store before they headed to the park on Monday afternoon. She’s seen wearing a yellow shirt, black-and-white checkered pants with a flower design, and white sandals. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a pony tail at the time.
Dulce is Hispanic and roughly 3 feet, 5 inches tall, police said.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to call the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 1-609-882-2000 ext. 2554, the Bridgeton Police Department at 1-856-451-0033, or to immediately dial 911.